County revenue up 2.5%; sheriff budget gets increase

By ED HOWELL
Posted 9/14/18

The Walker County Commission revealed Thursday that it would have an almost level-funded budget, with 2.5 percent increase in revenue and a 2.5 increase in funding for the sheriff and jail. The …

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County revenue up 2.5%; sheriff budget gets increase

Posted

The Walker County Commission revealed Thursday that it would have an almost level-funded budget, with 2.5 percent increase in revenue and a 2.5 increase in funding for the sheriff and jail. 

The Fiscal 2019 budget will be adopted by the end of the month, ahead of the start of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1. The district budgets may be adopted at Monday's meeting, according to Chairman Jerry Bishop. 

At a two-hour budget work session, the commission also heard that employees would not have an across-the board pay raise, but that the commission would absorb increases in health insurance. However, the county might be hit with more health insurance increases if departments did not participate more in meetings. 

However, overall county officials were pleased with the progress after financial problems resulted in recent years from costs and debt, as well as the defeat of a 1-cent sales tax last year which resulted in cuts. 

Part-time staff member, Randy Dodd, a 31-year employee of the state Department of Examiners of Public Accounts before he retired in March, indicated that had cuts not been made last year, the commission would not have been able to make payroll this fiscal year. 

County Administrator Robbie Dickerson, who was named to her position this year after working four years in the commission office, said medical insurance went up 5 percent across the board, to cost the county $935,000. Notifications will be starting on Friday when paychecks are handed out. 

District 1 Commissioner Keith Davis said the county picks up 80 percent of the cost, while employees pay 20 percent. "Again there is not any money for employee raises, but that is a benefit from the county. For six years I have been on this commission, insurance has probably gone up 20 percent probably, in that range. That cost has not been passed on to the employees," he said.   

"Now our employees get step raises. It is not like they don't go without a raise. But they have not had an across-the-board or cost of living raise. I understand that," he said. However, he added some counties give pay raises, but then also pass on the insurance increases to employees to pay. 

"We have had a 2.5 percent increase in revenue this year," Dodd said. "If the economy holds and that stays consistent for the next year, we do have some breathing room on revenue." He said he thinks that figure will continue to hold. 

Davis said the majority of those savings were being used for public safety and training. 

Overall, the county's General Fund budget rose from $9.6 million to $9.9 million, which helps departments that have been struggling, Dickerson and Dodd noted. 

Dodd noted, "We're expecting to end the year with $2,900 to spare. It's cutting real close. You're handling $10 million and you have $2,900 left over at the end of the year. You're cutting it close. It is a real tight budget. Most department are level funded except for increases in health insurance and a few merit raises." 

Revenue and probate will get slight increases, thanks to passing along the increase in revenue, Dodd said. 

"The sheriff, we're doing him a 2.5 percent increase," Dodd said, explaining a lump sum is of nearly $5,175,590.08 million will be given to cover the Sheriff's Office and the county jail. Some savings will also be seen from the county AT&T project to improve phone service, while Bishop noted the county will assist in the maintenance of the county jail. 

Bishop asked if Sheriff Jim Underwood had any additional comments, but Underwood declined to comment. The chairman asked Underwood to let him know if something was cut that needs to go back in, as the commission can look at it. 

Underwood, who will leave office in January, has sued the county, claiming the county is underfunding his departments. He also has sued concerning the county shifting responsibility of food service to the sheriff. 

However, county officials noted Underwood has participated in discussions with them over the upcoming budget. 

Davis later noted in the meeting that $200,000 in utilities for the sheriff are annually paid for by road and bridge funds.

The commissioner, who has been active in the budget process, said the revenue increase appears to be from the online sales tax from entities like Amazon and increase in rental tax revenue. Property tax revenue is flat, he said, while business license is up a little, he added. 

The courthouse budget was increased $36,000 for salaries and repairs. Bishop asked for an additional person, either one full-time person or two part-time workers, for the courthouse due to the repair and maintenance needs in the aging facility. He also noted the county has seven buildings to take care of. The courthouse only has one full-time person and two part-time employees to do the work, Bishop said.  

Bishop and commissioners discussed the situation of finding people on hand to work on certain days to do needed work, as many workers have accumulated sick days to take off as vacation days, as allowed by rules set by the Walker County Civil Service Board. Davis said some accumulate 90 days, for example, and then won't return for months, all according to the rules. 

"I've never worked anywhere where I had so many days off," Dickerson said.

However, all the commissioners agreed the workers are taking days that they were promised, which were also deserved. Davis said that it still explains why the county is still understaffed in many cases, including in the Sheriff's Office. 

"That's the rule. Don't get me wrong. Keith Davis isn't saying it is wrong. The rule is there. That is the Civil Service Board (setting the rules), not the county commission," he said, noting his workers have sometimes notified him they were taking off for three months. "But they will take a day off. They are not sick. They will just take a day off."

Bishop noted they are usually the most qualified people sometimes taking off. "You really miss them," he said. 

Davis also praised the Civil Service Board, whose budget was cut $4,300. He noted the board has "done a tremendous job" in cutting overtime and legal fees, which helped other offices. 

Each of the districts will get $850,000 to work with, but those budgets are not developed yet. 

In reviewing the departments, Dickerson said the commission office plans to cut it budget by $11,572 due to personnel changes, a move to paperless documentation and office supply. Room was left for purchasing additional office equipment.